Today’s historic photo of the day: Serse Coppi kisses his elder brother Fausto Coppi after winning the Paris-Roubaix 1949 edition.

For the first and only time in history, there were two winners in Paris-Roubaix, and Serse was one of them. The other was team Stella-Dunlop’s French rider André Mahé.

1949 Paris-Roubaix, the 47th edition of the race was held on April 18. There was great chaos at the end of the race. The two winners finished separately, they were separated by four other riders and they both even reached the line by two different routes!

But what happened?

Serse Coppi kisses Fausto Coppi after the Paris-Roubaix 1949 edition
Serse Coppi kisses his elder brother Fausto Coppi after the Paris-Roubaix 1949 edition.

Paris-Roubaix 1949

There were 217 riders at the start line in Saint-Denis. This edition is billed as a duel between the Belgian Rik Van Steenbergen, the defending champion, and “Il Campionissimo” Fausto Coppi, who participated for the first time.

During the race, several riders crashed out. Swiss rider Ferdi Kübler and Rik Van Steenbergen were among them.

At 26 km from the finish to Seclin, the French Jacques Moujica broke away. Belgians Florent Mathieu and Frans Leenen and French André Mahé joined him. Mathieu crashed and broke a pedal. Then Mahé attacked and created a gap. Arriving at the Roubaix velodrome, Mahé was ahead of Leenen and Moujica, but they were misguided by the security forces. They enter the track through the press door. Mahé was the first on the finish line.

Another group containing strong riders appeared shortly thereafter. Serse Coppi, brother of Fausto Coppi, won the sprint ahead of André Declerck.

Mahé was first named the winner and performed a victory lap in the velodrome. Serse Coppi, however, supported by his elder brother Fausto, raised a claim: the official itinerary has not been respected by the lead riders. Mahe was downgraded, and Serse Coppi designated winner.

However, during the following week, the French Cycling Federation (FFC) announced that Mahé was the winner. The Italian Cycling Federation challenged that decision at the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), and UCI canceled the result in August and fixed taking the final decision in November, during its congress in Zurich. In November, Serse Coppi was named the joint winner with Mahé.

Paris-Roubaix 1949

Mahé said in 2007:

C’est trop bête d’en parler (It’s too stupid to talk about). There was a break. Coppi attacked. His brother Fausto gave him a push to get him away. He wanted his brother to win. I waited a bit and then I attacked and I caught him and the break. Then I went off by myself. I was going to win Paris-Roubaix. At the entrance to the vélodrome, there were crowds everywhere, blocking the way.

I looked around for where to go and I was directed around the outside wall of the track, to where the team cars had to park. It wasn’t like nowadays when there’s the television and everything. Then it was more chaotic and the whole road was blocked. People said I should have known the way into the track. But how do you know a thing like that at the end of Paris-Roubaix, when you’ve raced all day over roads like that? A gendarme signaled the way to go and that’s the way I went.

It was a journalist on a motorbike who managed to get up to me. He was shouting ‘Not that way! Not that way!’ And I turned round in the road and I rode back beneath the outside wall of the grandstand and I saw a gateway that went into the track, a gateway for journalists. And that’s the way I went, except that it came out on the other side of the track from the proper entrance. The bunch came in and Serse won the sprint. But then his brother told Serse to go to the judges to object.

He told Serse that I hadn’t ridden the entire and precise course and that therefore I should be déclassé. But that was below him. Coppi wanted his brother to have a big victory. He was a great champion, Coppi, but to do what he did, to protest like that to get a victory for his brother, that wasn’t dignified for a champion. That was below him. A champion like that should never have stooped that low. I never spoke to him about it. Never did. Why should I?

The next year, in the 48th edition, Fausto Coppi won an epic victory.


M. Özgür Nevres

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